LWML Sunday 2016 LSB #’s 656, 827
Text – John 1:46
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come & see.”
Come & See!
Have you ever been surprised? Surprises can be pleasant. After a romantic stroll in the park, a man gets down on his knee, pulls out a beautiful ring, & asks his high school sweetheart, “Would you marry me?” A young wife eagerly shares big news with her unsuspecting husband: “Guess what? We’re having a baby!”
Surprises can also be unpleasant. Unexpected rain pours down on your much anticipated wedding day. An optimistic job seeker receives a letter of rejection after a seemingly great personal interview. News of the sudden death of a loved one crushes our spirit. All surprises are, by definition, unexpected, but not all surprises are received in the same way.
People can have vastly different reactions to the same surprise. When the results of the presidential election are in some will celebrate. Others will lament. Think of restaurant or movie reviews on the Internet. One woman’s favorite film or café is another woman’s worst entertainment or dining venue.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone describe an artist’s new style or her latest song by saying, “People either like it or hate it.” Same surprise – different responses. This dynamic is exactly what we encounter when Philip & Nathaniel see & hear of Jesus for the 1st time. Through His only Son, God revealed His greatest surprise for a world in darkness.
Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, has come from above to dispel the darkness. Yet we have two entirely different reactions to this news. After calling Andrew & his brother, Simon Peter, Jesus found Philip & called him to be His disciple too: “Follow me!” Once he spent time with Jesus, Philip learned the basics about this man from Galilee & shared the good news about Him with Nathanael. We sense excitement in Philip’s words: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law & also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!” It’s as if Philip had found an invaluable treasure & he must tell everyone about it. He receives the news with a joyful heart because he saw Jesus through the eyes of the Holy Spirit – the eyes of faith.
He has literally seen the Light, but not so, for Nathanael. Through the mouth of Philip, Nathanael also hears of Jesus for the 1st time, but his reaction is entirely different from that of Philip. We read of no excitement upon Nathanael’s hearing of the good news. Instead, there’s a sense of suspicion about this Galilean Jesus:
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael’s is not a joyful attitude, but a guarded posture. He receives the news with cautious disposition at best, & a doubtful one at worst. Unlike Philip, Nathanael sees Jesus through the eyes of the flesh, somewhere in that spectrum between disbelief & unbelief.
He is literally in the dark & the Light has yet to overcome it. His question remains: Can anything good come out of Nazareth in Galilee? The odds seem to be against it. The northern province of Galilee is a land too close to unclean Gentiles & too far from holy Jerusalem in the southern province of Judea.
No self-respecting Israelite from Judea would look for the Son of God, the King of Israel, in such an unexpected place as Galilee of the Gentiles. Unlike their counterparts in Judea, Galilean Jews speak with a strange accent & are known for a less than clean record on following prescribed Jewish laws. Why look for God’s power & wisdom in Galilee? It makes no sense!
Is not the great city of Jerusalem the real center of kingly power & rabbinic wisdom? Are not God’s holy temple & priests in the holy city? Are not the learned Pharisees & scribes there, as well? In short, are not the clean, pure & righteous Israelites to be found in Jerusalem? Can God truly work out His salvation from an unlikely place such as Nazareth in Galilee, & among such unlikely folks as the Galileans?
God surprises us. We frequently look for power & wisdom in the wrong place – in the best that human beings have to offer, in our holiness, purity & righteousness. Yet, it is in Jesus of Nazareth, the unassuming man from Galilee, that we are called to see the power & the wisdom of God at work in our lives.
We are called to fix our eyes not on ourselves, but on Jesus; not on our holiness, but on Jesus’ holiness. We are reminded that we are not the light. Jesus is the Light – the Light of the World. To the surprised & perplexed, to the cautious & guarded, to those in disbelief or doubt, yet seeking answers, Jesus appears & invites them to fellowship with Him:
“Come & you will see.” Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, but then is suddenly sent by the Baptist on a different path. He must now follow Jesus. After all, John the Baptist was not the light, but came to bear witness to the Light. Andrew likely had questions about this sudden change of allegiance to this Man from Galilee, & sought answers.
So Jesus asked him, “What are you seeking?” And Andrew, along with another one of John’s former disciples, responded: “Rabbi…where are you staying?” Then, we hear Jesus’ wonderful invitation to these seekers: “Come & you will see!”
Later, Jesus extends the same invitation to Nathanael. But this time, Jesus speaks His words of invitation through Philip, whom He had just called to follow Him. Nathanael’s infamous words, “Can anything good come out Nazareth?” are met with Philip’s call to meet Jesus: “Come & see!”
Any lingering questions & doubts Nathanael may have had about the man from Galilee eventually come to an end when Jesus Himself appears to him &, to Nathanael’s surprise, tells him exactly where he was before Philip called him, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Suddenly, the light came on for Nathanael! The light of Christ overcame the darkness of Nathanael’s heart. Nathanael had now seen the Light, & his infamous words are replaced by his confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Good things do come out of Nazareth in Galilee. Not only does God work out His salvation, but reveals the Light of the world, from a most unexpected place – out of Galilee, through the Man from Galilee.
In addition to this surprising state of affairs, God also chooses to bring the light of His Son to the most unlikely folks – to Galileans themselves – & through them invites others to partake of the fullness of life in His kingdom. Andrew, Simon Peter & Philip are from Bethsaida in Galilee. Nathanael is from Cana in Galilee. And the list goes on.
A Galilean Savior with His Galilean disciples. How shocking! How surprising! A people too close to the Gentiles; a people with too strange an accent. A people cut from a different cultural cloth than their southern counterparts in Judah.
Nevertheless, it is out of odd & lowly Galilee that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, sends His Galilean disciples. They’re sent out to bring the world God so loved into the Light, to bring a wayward, erring & dying world to the One who is the Way, the Truth & the Life.
Who are the Galileans of our day? Who are the people in our neighborhoods who look & speak differently from us, whose cultural ways confound us? Who are those strange folks, or children of folks, from different tribes, languages & nations in our midst?
Whom do we think, from our narrow human perspective, are the neighbors least likely to benefit from the goodies, from God’s surprising news of salvation in Christ? Who do we think, due to our close-minded sinful ways, are the neighbors least likely to receive God’s gracious invitation into the life-giving kingdom of His Son?
You see, we too can be like Nathanael, doubtful about what God can do on behalf of & with neighbors in marginal areas like Galilee, cautiously optimistic about strangers coming into & serving in our churches, guarded about inviting modern-day Galileans to be disciples of Jesus with us for the sake of the world.
When we think in these ways, we are in the dark. We see only with eyes of the flesh, & we close our hearts to the surprisingly gracious ways in which God reveals His great love for new neighbors near & far through His Son.
Yet God is merciful, surprising us again & again, inviting us to see with the eyes of the Holy Spirit what mighty deeds He can do in the most unlikely places & among the most unlikely characters. He calls us once again to see the Light, wherever He shines, even in Galilee & among Galileans! When we ask ourselves, like Nathanael:
“Can anything good come out of” Ann Arbor, or Syria, Iraq, & even Washington DC? Jesus gently sends a Philip who invites you to “come & see” that the Lord can do great things in & out of lowly Galilee. Through Philip, we are called anew to “come & see” that God’s love in Christ Jesus knows no ethnic, racial, linguistic, tribal, or geographic boundaries.
What is the church but a beautiful fellowship of Galileans! A marginal people called out of darkness into the light of the Son. A people once dead raised to new life through faith in Jesus as Savior. Through strangers in our midst, God reminds us that His entire church is a bunch of strangers in a foreign land. We are in the world, but thankfully not of the world.
To the culture, we are aliens, strangers speaking with a foreign accent while walking to a strange beat. We speak the ancient language of Holy Scripture. We initiate people into the church by sprinkling them with water at the baptismal font. We eat the body & drink the blood of God’s Son at our altar. Our pastors forgive us our sins. We love those who hate us while we sing & dance to the tune of strange-sounding hymns, canticles & songs to worship our Galilean Lord & God. How odd! How surprising! We, too, are strange Galileans.
On Women’s Missionary League Sunday, we rejoice in Jesus’ calling & invitation to come & see once again what He has graciously done in our lives, His great deeds of salvation on behalf of Galileans like us.
Today, we also receive with great thanksgiving & awesome wonder Jesus’ surprising invitation to come & see what He can do, & is indeed doing, even among strange Galilean neighbors in our midst in order to extend His kingdom throughout the world.
We also ask the Lord Jesus to open our eyes to His surprising opportunities for partnership with brothers & sisters in Christ from different ethnic & language groups in the United States & abroad. In those ways, together we might invite even more neighbors to meet Jesus, the man from Galilee, our Light & our Life.
Hey Philip! Can anything good really come out of Nazareth in Galilee? Yes indeed, Nathanael. Jesus, God’s greatest gift to us, has surprisingly come out of lowly Galilee for us & for our salvation. Good things do come out of Galilee!
Hey Philip! Can God work out His salvation in lowly places & among strangers today? Yes indeed, Nathanael. “Come and see!”
Hark, the voice of Jesus calling, “Who will go & work today? Fields are white & harvests waiting – who will bear the sheaves away?” Loud & long the Master calleth; rich reward He offers thee. Who will answer gladly saying, “Here am I, send me, send me”? Hearken to the Lord whose coming marks the time when grace shall end. When with His angelic reapers He in glory shall descend. Soon the night, the final harvest; soon the time for work shall cease. Then the souls His grace has garnered shall enjoy His Sabbath peace. Amen.
LSB 827:1, 4
Stewardship 4 – 2016 LSB #851, 787, 785
Text – Luke 16:13
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one & love the other, or he will be devoted to the one & despise the other. You cannot serve God & money.
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF MONEY
Let’s get it out in the open, up-front, & in the clear: this is the dreaded ‘money’ sermon! We have to do it. Not only is money something we as individuals & as a society hold in very high regard, but money is also one of God’s gifts to us. Like ALL His other gifts, He wants us to manage it with wisdom & faithfulness.
You see, God actually does have something to say about how we use & manage this means of exchange, not only to provide for our own needs, but to serve our neighbor & to promote His Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus. In fact, you could say, “It’s really God Himself who preaches the ‘money’ sermon.”
We’ve considered God’s gift of the created order, His gift of other people, & His gift of time. God showers us with these gifts to manage for His glory & for the service of our neighbor. So, yes, in this final installment of Managing God’s Gifts, we look at God’s gift of money. Our gracious God is & always will be the “lord of the manor.”
We are & always will be His “stewards,” or “managers.” He owns the entire estate. We are simply the butlers, the maids, the cooks, the grounds keepers, & so forth. The whole estate belongs to our Creator. Honestly & truthfully, nothing belongs to us. That even includes money.
Luke 16 plunges us into the heart & soul of stewardship in general & management of money in particular. Jesus tells this perplexing parable about a manager who had mismanaged his master’s possessions. Charges were brought against the manager, so he had to scramble & figure out how to support himself. Suffice it to say, the manager was smart. He was cunning. He was shrewd. He put his MBA-like skills to good use, as far as he was concerned, which was only for himself. As Jesus tells the tale, “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” (Luke 16:8) No, his dishonesty did not win the acclaim, but his shrewd management did. Then Jesus gives us His punch line & purpose for the parable:
“I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9) If you are not faithful in managing “unrighteous wealth,” how can you expect to be entrusted with God’s true riches?
Jesus also says, “You cannot serve God & money.” (Luke 10:13) He’s not teaching us to avoid money. Rather, He’s teaching us not to idolize money, bow down to it, or serve it. St. Paul said it this way: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith & pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Notice, not money itself, but the love of money – is the root of all kinds of evils. It’s a 1st Commandment issue. Luther said, “To put it very briefly, God does not want us to serve money & possessions. Nor does He want us to worry. But He does want us to work & leave the worry to Him.” (WLS § 3075)
Money is just a means of exchange, a tool for carrying out commerce, a convenient instrument we use for purchasing clothing & shoes, food & drink, house & home, & so on. Having more money does not make you a better person, & having less money does not make you a lesser person.
Contrary to common notions in our culture today, being wealthy does not make you evil, nor does being poor somehow make you more virtuous. Money is merely a means of exchange. How you manage money & what you do with it reveals who you are, what your priorities are, & what kind of manager you are. What priorities does God give for managing His gift of money? We can sum them up in three categories: 1st, for ourselves; 2nd, for our neighbor; & 3rd, for His Church. The 1st priority is pretty obvious. We know we need to eat & drink, wear clothing, have a place to live, have transportation, & so on. God provides our “daily bread” – the support & needs of the body.
The same Lord Jesus who said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matthew 6:25), also provides us with work & wages to provide for ourselves. God gives us His gift of money to provide, 1st, for our families & ourselves.
The 2nd priority is for our neighbor. In our Western culture, especially here in the United States, we do enjoy a pretty high standard of living. Even the poorest among us are often better off compared to the poor in other parts of the world. Once we provide for our families & ourselves, we’re free to help our neighbor in need.
Many are the Bible’s exhortations to help the poor & those less well off than we are. Who can forget Jesus’ words that He promised to speak on the Last Day: “For I was hungry & you gave Me food, I was thirsty & you gave Me drink, I was a stranger & you welcomed Me”? Yes, as we are able, our Lord gives His gift of money so that we will help & serve our neighbor.
Martin Luther said that God does not want us to serve possessions & money. Instead, God wants our money to be our servant, to do what we tell it to do, not the other way around. Luther paints this lively picture of a Christian using money as his servant to help his neighbor:
“He, then, may use the possessions, as Abraham, David, Job & other wealthy people did... When he sees a man who has no coat, he says to his money: Come out, young Mr. Gulden! There is a poor naked man who has no coat; you must serve him. Over there lies a sick man who has no refreshment. Come forth, Sir Dollars! You must be on your way; go & help him.” (WLS §
3075) Luther helps us see how to manage our money according to God’s will, & he summarizes by saying: “People who handle their possessions in this way are masters of their possessions. And, surely, all honest Christians will do this.” (WLS § 3075) Psalm 112 says of God: “He has distributed freely; He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” (Psalm 112:9)
The 3rd priority God gives for managing His gift of money is for His Church. The Good News itself is free. Christ’s atoning death on the cross is absolutely free. Our salvation & forgiveness from Jesus, crucified & risen, is absolutely free – no strings attached, no works required, no down payment needed.
However, in this fallen world, driven by economic realities, it takes money to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even Jesus & His disciples had a treasurer for their work. Buildings are built to proclaim this precious Good News. Pastors need to be paid in order to support their family & themselves.
Bread & wine must be purchased for receiving our Lord’s body & blood. Light & heating & cooling bills must be paid. Materials for outreach & publicity efforts must be purchased, printed & distributed. For those churches that operate parochial schools, teachers must be paid; supplies & books must be provided.
Yes, in this world of economic realities, it takes money to serve our neighbor & to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. Remember, Jesus Himself spoke of using “unrighteous wealth” for eternal purposes, namely, proclaiming & spreading the Good News of His eternal salvation.
Today’s OT reading, from Exodus 35, gives a glorious picture of the joy of using “unrighteous wealth” for God’s holy purposes. The children of Israel had just fled from Egypt after over 400 years of slavery. I doubt they had the money or possessions we Americans have! Yet, these freed children of God joyously provided for the construction & use of the tabernacle, the very place where God Himself would dwell among them & shower them with His grace & blessing of salvation. Those who had blue, purple, or scarlet yarns gladly brought them. Those who had silver or bronze brought them. Those who could weave the cloth did so. Those who could build the frames or set the stones joyously did so.
“All the men & women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.” (Exodus 35:29)
They were gladly & joyously managing God’s gifts for His glory! So much so that Exodus 36 records the abundant fruit of the freewill offerings. As Bezalel & Oholiab organized the work crews of craftsmen, they met with Moses & said, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” (Exodus 36:5)
Moses actually had to stop the collection, because the people were giving so much! What generosity! What joy! What marvelous managing of God’s gifts of money & possessions for God’s purposes! In 1932, John H. C. Fritz gave this instruction to pastors:
“If the Christians of our day would give ten per cent. [sic] of their income, as the Jews did in the OT, or if the Christians of our day would support the Church to the extent of their power & even beyond their power, as did the poor Macedonian Christians... the treasuries of the churches would always be filled to overflowing, & there would no longer be the proverbial church deficit.” (p. 259–60)
Part of managing God’s gift of money is indeed using it to support the Church in her work of extending the reach of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which brings us to our 2nd reading. St. Paul used the example of the poor Macedonian Christians, & their cheerful giving, to inspire the wealthier Corinthian Christians.
Though poor, the Macedonian Christians found great joy in giving to Paul’s famine relief efforts for the Jerusalem Church. Paul sought to spur the Corinthians to show that their love too was genuine. He wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” There’s the motivation for managing God’s gift of money with wisdom & faithfulness. Christ Jesus was rich – the Son of God, owning & ruling over all things in heaven & on earth.
Yet He became poor for you – humbling Himself in His incarnation & humbling Himself even more by going to the cross for you. Christ’s poverty makes you rich. Christ’s death makes you alive. Christ’s forgiveness frees you from slavery to self & to wealth. Christ’s generous giving makes you a generous giver.
St. Paul drives it home: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, & whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Our God Himself is a cheerful giver. He gives us His world, He gives us other people, He gives us time, &, yes, He gives us money. He calls us to manage everything He gives, for His glory & to serve our neighbor. This is proper stewardship for all of life. This is Managing God’s Gifts. Amen.
At last [Jesus] brought His offering & laid it on a tree; there gave Himself, His life, His love for all humanity. Lord, help us all, with You, to yield whatever love demands & freely give, as You have given, with open hearts & hands. Amen.
Quotations marked WLS are from What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, copyright © 1959 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
The quotation from John H. C. Fritz is taken from Pastoral Theology: A Handbook of Scriptural Principles Written Especially for Pastors of the Lutheran Church, copyright © 1945 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
 1 Timothy 6:10
 Matthew 25:35 ESV
 2 Corinthians 8:9
 2 Corinthians 9:6–7
Stewardship 3 – 2016 LSB #850
Text – Luke 10:41-42
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious & troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF TIME
Have you noticed how many people are frantically trying to catch up with their “busy schedule”? It’s like their schedule is a New York City subway train that’s just closed its doors & begun to leave the station. They run, coffee in one hand, briefcase in the other, trying to catch the speeding train & hop on, to no avail.
Perhaps your daily life makes you feel that way. Yet God has given each one of us the very same 24 hour day, the same 7 day week. In this installment of Managing God’s Gifts, we look at His gift of time.
First, we considered managing – being good stewards of – God’s gift of His created world. He calls us to receive it with thanksgiving, take care of it, & use it to benefit all of God’s creation. Then, we looked at managing God’s gift of other people by loving & serving them in our God-given vocations.
Now, we consider time. God created it, & bestows time upon us as a free gift. As with His others gifts, our gracious ‘lord of the manor’ wants us to manage time to His glory. Only in that way is our stewardship of it a blessing. Wise King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:
“To everything there is a season, & a time to every purpose under heaven.” (3:1 KJV) He then sings of many things we do & endure during our days & years on Earth, perhaps more than we ever dream of cramming into our already crowded schedules. Notice where Solomon leads:
“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful & to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat & drink & take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.” Not only does God give us time, our years, months, days & hours as a gift, but He also gives a purpose to our time.
It’s likely you will not find God’s purpose mentioned in the time-management books you can read. Our Creator wants you to find “everything beautiful.” He wants you to be joyful & do good as you manage your time. He wants you to eat, drink & take pleasure in your toil as you practice good stewardship of His gift of time.
As The Lutheran Study Bible notes, God wants you to “rejoice in the good of your labor as a gift of God & an expression of His love toward His children.” He wants you to “comfort one another, cheerfully receive God’s gifts, & further benefit your neighbor by generosity.” (TLSB, p. 1054) But there’s the rub, right?
How can we find everything beautiful while we frantically try to keep up with the speeding subway train of our overcrowded schedule? How can we be joyful & do good when we’re running late, have to shuttle the children to school, then rush to work for another long day? Oh, & fit in a trip to the grocery store!
What about those unexpected trips to the doctor’s office? How can we possibly take pleasure in our toil, let alone in eating & drinking, when we only have time for the Starbucks drive-thru breakfast or the McDonald’s drive-thru supper? How can we receive our labor as God’s gift, even half cheerfully, when keeping the frantic pace is standard operating procedure?
How can we even consider that all these things come from God, & that He wants us to enjoy them as beautiful, when we’re so all consumed with living? When we do ‘fit’ some rest & relaxation into our hectic schedules, does it truly restore & refresh us? Do we pack our vacations just as full with frenetic activities as we do the rest of our time? Perhaps we fill our one or two days off per week with so many chores & “honey dos” that we feel the need to return to work just to rest up. We really are like Martha in the Gospel reading.
When Jesus came to visit, Martha busied herself with the countless dinner preparations, while Mary just sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach. “Distracted with much serving” is how Luke describes Martha. (10:40) Then Martha worried that Mary wasn’t pulling her weight. She tried to triangulate Jesus to her side of the conflict. But Jesus would have none of that.
He answered: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious & troubled about many things.” (Luke 10:41) Our Lord might just as well say that to you & me. Then Jesus gives the better way: “But one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) What is that “one thing necessary,” that “good portion”?
Jesus lets us figure it out from Mary’s action, which Martha thought was idle inaction. It was sitting at the Lord’s feet & listening to His teaching. For our lives, let’s call it regularly attending church or reading our Bible at home or praying together with everyone in the household or taking time to be fed on the Bread of life Himself.
“But, Pastor, I don’t have time for daily devotions. Haven’t you heard how busy I am? Don’t you get how much I have to do? And come to church every Sunday? Sundays are my only day to sleep in.”
Therein lies the problem. We are anxious & troubled about many things – things not related to the Word of God, things that do not, & cannot, give us the real rest we need. This is the reason God gives us the 3rd Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
This is also the reason Martin Luther tied the Word of God to this commandment in his Small Catechism: “We should fear & love God so that we do not despise preaching & His Word, but hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it.” Let that meaning change your view of life. Let it shape you, & how you manage God’s gift of time. In his Large Catechism, Luther says that God gives us the 3rd Commandment for both physical rest & spiritual rest. Speaking of these “holy days” or holidays, Luther says:
“We keep them 1st of all for bodily causes & necessities, which nature teaches & requires. We keep them for the common people” – meaning us – “who have been attending to their work & trade the whole week. In this way they may withdraw in order to rest for a day & be refreshed.” (LC I 83)
Managing God’s gift of time includes withdrawing from the hectic, busy, frenetic pace & being refreshed in the body. It also includes withdrawing & being refreshed in our soul & spirit. So Luther continues:
“Second, & most especially, on this day of rest (since we can get no other chance), we have the freedom & time to attend divine service. We come together to hear & use God’s Word, & then to praise God, to sing & to pray.” (LC I 84)
Managing God’s gift of time starts with, & circles back to, hearing & learning His Word, not only in personal Bible reading but also, & especially, in the Divine Service. Luther’s catechism hymn on the Ten Commandments teaches us to sing this meaning in this way:
You shall observe the worship day
That peace may fill your home, & pray,
And put aside the work you do,
So that God may work in you.
Have mercy, Lord! (LSB 581:4)
When you actually push the pause button on your busy routine & your overcrowded schedule, when you actually attend Divine Service & gladly hear preaching & learn God’s Word, Yahweh Himself works in you. God Himself gives you the rest that you need. The Holy Trinity works so that you may manage His gift of time, find everything beautiful, be joyful & do good. Our heavenly Father works in you by giving you His own Son. Jesus knows how the body wears out & needs physical rest. He knows how the soul needs spiritual rest in His Word. When He took His rest, He did so by observing the worship day & praying.
For all of us who neglect His Word, for all of us who frazzle ourselves with our frantic, works-righteous, workaday pace, the Lord Jesus did His greatest work by suffering & dying on a cross. Consider how that wore Him out! Then He rested in His tomb of death on the Sabbath to restore the day of rest for our benefit.
He rose victorious on the third day to restore us to proper Sabbath-keeping, to proper management of His gift of time. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.”
Managing God’s gift of time is a lot like putting big rocks, medium stones, pea-size gravel, & sand into a gallon jar. All of them will fit into the jar. If we start with the small stuff – the sand – put it in the jar first, then put the gravel on top of that, & the medium stones on top of that, there will not be room for the big rocks.
But when we begin with putting the big rocks in 1st – the most important things – followed by the medium stones, followed by the pea-size gravel, & finally the sand, then, yes, it will all fit. You see, the big ingredients, the important things, they go in 1st & the smaller ingredients work around them to fill in the gaps.
On top of that, we can squeeze even more into the jar by pouring in water to fill the rest of the gaps. When it comes to managing God’s gift of time – hearing & learning His Word, attending the Divine Service, receiving the Lord’s body & blood – those are the “big rocks.”
If you try to fit them into your busy schedule last, of course, there won’t be room. So put them into your schedule first. After that, put in the medium stones of other obligations, such as family, work & so on. Then put in the less weighty stuff, like social activities or outings with friends, reading a good book or a favorite hobby, the “gravel” & “sand,” if you will, to fill in the gaps. If we put God 1st He will enable us to find that our “busy schedule” still has gaps to fill as we so choose.
Our Creator gives time to you as His gift, not so you feel frazzled, or like you’re chasing a departing subway train, or even feel like you’re merely chasing your own tail. He does not want you to be “anxious & troubled about many things.” (Luke 10:41)
Instead, He wants you to spend your time on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.” So, “if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8), & make them the ‘larger, more important ingredients’ in the gallon jar of your schedule.
In managing God’s gift of time, our gracious Lord wants you to find “everything beautiful.” He wants you to be joyful & do good as you manage your time. He wants you to eat, drink & take pleasure in your toil as you practice good stewardship of His gift of time. Amen.
God of grace & God of glory, on Your people pour Your power; crown Your ancient Church’s story bring its bud to glorious flower. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour. Lo, the hosts of evil round us scorn the Christ, assail His ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith & praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days, for the living of these days. Amen. LSB 850:1-2
 Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 ESV
 Hebrews 4:9–10
Stewardship 2 – 2016 LSB #’s 649, 845 (tune 707), 848
Text – Luke 10:33-35
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, & when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him & bound up his wounds, pouring on oil & wine. Then he set him on his own animal & brought him to an inn & took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii & gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, & whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF OTHER PEOPLE
In case you haven’t noticed, there are other people in this world. Sources say the number is well above 7 billion. In the United States, there are somewhere over 318 million, & each of them is God’s gift to you. But don’t let statistics overwhelm you. Just focus on the people nearby – where you live, where you worship, where you work, where you play.
They are God’s gifts to you. As we continue the series on Managing God’s Gifts – this look at real, biblical, all-of-life stewardship – we now focus on our neighbor. Remember, ‘stewardship’ is not a dirty word. Nor is it a word that only means “money” or “fund-raising.”
“Stewardship” describes how we believe & live as God’s created, redeemed & sanctified children. All of our Christian faith & life is “stewardship.” If you want a better word than “stewardship” think “management.” If you don’t know what a steward is, think “manager” – someone who manages what belongs to someone else. That someone else is God Himself.
Last week, we focused on God’s gift of the world, His created order, & how we can manage it according to His will – receiving it with thanksgiving, caring for it, & using physical, material things for the benefit of our neighbor. Today, we focus on God’s gift of other people.
Yes, other people, all 7.3 billion of them around the globe, all 318 million of them in our nation, & every individual with whom we have contact are God’s gift. Being good managers in our relations with others leads us to love & serve them, especially as we bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus. When we go back to God’s original plan for His creation, in Genesis 2, we see how God breathed life into Adam, the 1st man. After that, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18 ESV) Not only did God then create woman & institute marriage, He also showed that we human beings need other human beings.
If you don’t believe that, then check to see if you have a belly button. Adam & Eve did not, but if you do, you needed two other people in order to come into this world. Your belly button is your lifelong reminder that you need other people & that God calls you to serve & love other people.
God created & programmed us to live in community. Other people, especially those closest to us in our families, are gifts from God. Just as God Himself is a community – three persons, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, in one divine Being – He creates us to live in community. It begins with man & woman in marriage. It also includes other people around us.
God wants us to “manage” those other people around us with love & service to them. He gives us these other people in our marriages, in our families, in the church, & in society. We heard it in the reading from Leviticus 19. The chapter begins with God telling His OT people & us: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
So, what does that holiness entail? Things like revering mother & father, keeping the Sabbath, not turning to idols. (Leviticus 19:3–4) Right on the heels of this command to be holy, God talks about loving our neighbor. Maybe “managing” your neighbor sounds like a strange way of loving them, so we’ll look at that in more detail.
As God Himself says, don’t worry about snipping every last head of grain when you harvest your field. Don’t worry about plucking every last grape when you harvest your vineyard. “Leave them for the poor & for the sojourner.” (Leviticus 19:10) Why? Because the Lord is your holy God. Don’t steal. Don’t deceive. Don’t lie. Don’t take false oaths using God’s name. Don’t make God’s name as common as dirt. Why? Because the Lord is your holy God. Don’t oppress your neighbor or rob him. Pay your workers a proper wage, & pay them on time. Don’t spurn the deaf or the blind, or cause them to stumble. Why? Because the Lord is your holy God.
Don’t take other people to court just to get the advantage over them. Don’t respect the rich & famous over the poor & unknown. Don’t tell tales about your neighbors or disrespect their life in any way. Why? Because the Lord is your holy God.
You see, your neighbor – in your marriage, in your family, in the church, & in society – is God’s gift to you. God has created that neighbor. He has loved that neighbor. He has redeemed that neighbor & covered that neighbor with the blood of Jesus. He wants you to serve & love that neighbor just as He does – just as He has served & loved & redeemed you.
A quick look around makes it clear that isn’t the way society operates, nor most people in society. We live in a world that teaches us How to Win Friends & Influence People for our own benefit. Dale Carnegie’s book does offer helpful wisdom for interacting with our neighbors.
However, the well-known goals of winning friends & influencing people include increasing your own popularity, increasing your own prestige, winning new clients or customers, & becoming a better salesperson or executive.
There’s nothing wrong or sinful with Christians being popular or Christian business people gaining clients or Christians being better salespeople or executives. The problem comes when we try to win friends & influence people for our own benefit, for our own advantage.
Jesus did not say, “You shall love your neighbor so that your neighbor will love you more in return.” He said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) And, by the way, when He gave that 2nd greatest commandment, He did not mean that you should love yourself first & then figure out how to love your neighbor after that. He knew that you already love yourself – too much, in fact. That’s what sin is: being curved in on yourself. St. Paul’s words clarify how we are to love our neighbors: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) Isn’t that what we heard in the Gospel reading?
The man who fell among robbers desperately needed someone, a neighbor, to love & serve & help him. First, a priest happened by. He did nothing! Just walked on by. Then, a Levite happened to see him. Again, no help! Just passed on by. Finally, a Samaritan “came to where he was, & when he saw him, he had compassion.” (Luke 10:33)
The Samaritan put his own needs on hold & actually put himself at risk. He bound the man’s wounds, carried him to the inn, & paid for him to stay there & convalesce. This is a wonderful picture of managing God’s gift of other people, the people whom God’s Holy Spirit puts in our path.
Not only is this a picture of God’s will for us to love & “manage” our neighbor, it’s also a picture of how our gracious, merciful God actually loves & rescues us. You see, Jesus Himself is our Good Samaritan. We have fallen among the robbers of sin & death. We’re left stripped, beaten & dead in our own sins against other people & by sins that others commit against us.
But God Himself comes to our rescue. In His divine, eternal compassion, He comes to us & binds our wounds. Jesus pours on the oil & wine of His healing forgiveness when He baptizes us, absolves us, & feeds us at His Table. He brings us into the church, where He continues to arrange for our ongoing healing & recovery from sin & death. And what price has He paid?
He went to the cross to suffer our wounds & to die in our place, taking on our beatings from sin & death. He rose on the 3rd day to bring life & immortality to light through the Gospel. Jesus is our greatest neighbor who has loved & served & helped each one of us. Based on this compassion & healing from Jesus, you & I are set free to love & serve our neighbors, the people God puts in our lives. Now we are ready to hear & live the exhortation St. Paul gives in the reading from Galatians 6: “Bear one another’s burdens, & so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2 ESV)
Then, he says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, & especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) How do we “manage,” or steward, the people around us who are God’s gifts to us? We love & serve them for their benefit, not ours.
“But, Pastor, how can I do that? There are so many people around me.” Yes, there are a lot of people in the world, in our nation, & just in your life. That’s why good stewardship flows out of the doctrine of vocation. It tells that God does His work – His holy, spiritual, heavenly work – of caring for us through the “masks” of people around us.
In other words, God works through you as you care for, love & serve your neighbor. You are the mask God disguises Himself with. Someone expressed it this way:
“We don’t have to wonder if our work in this world is ‘spiritual’ enough. Christ’s blood provides full payment for our sin; our relationship with God is already secured. That’s a given. Now we can tend to the neighbor’s need in perfect freedom. Thus for the child of God in this world every occupation is a holy calling – holy with the presence of God.”
How can you manage, or steward, God’s gifts of the people around you? Focus on the people God has put closest to you in life. Consider your family. How can you love & serve your spouse, your children, your parents & siblings for their benefit? Consider your church. How can you love & serve your pastor & your fellow Christians for their benefit?
Consider your place of employment. How can you love & serve your boss or supervisor, & how can you love & serve your fellow employees, again, for their benefit? The ways are countless; & all of them are ways of practicing good stewardship with the people who are God’s gifts to you. Finally, St. Paul writes of the best way to “manage” God’s gift of people. He says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1) If we truly love & want to serve the people whom God has put on the pathway of our lives, we will want to give them Jesus & His forgiveness.
We’ll want to warn them of their sins – sins of unbelief or self-centered actions or destructive lifestyles. We will want them to join us in the healing & compassion of Jesus. We will want them to rejoice that Jesus is their Good Samaritan too.
The greatest & best way to love & serve our unbelieving neighbor is to bring the Gospel of Jesus to them, & them into the Church. The greatest & best way to love & serve our Christian neighbor is to practice the love, forgiveness & reconciliation of Jesus with them at all times & in all places.
God wants us to live in community. To that end He gives other people to us as His gifts. He wants us to love & serve them as He has 1st loved & served us. That’s good stewardship – “management” – of the people in our families, in our church, & in society. Amen.
Where charity & love prevail there God is ever found; brought here together by Christ’s love by love are we thus bound. Forgive we now each other’s faults as we our faults confess, & let us love each other well in Christian holiness. For love excludes no race or clan that names the Savior’s name; His family embraces all whose Father is the same. Amen. LSB 845:1, 3, 6.
 Senkbeil, H., Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness, copyright © 1994 Concordia Publishing House. P. 168.
Stewardship 1 – 2016 LSB #’s 781
Text – Mark 8:6-8
And [Jesus] directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, & having given thanks, He broke them & gave them to His disciples to set before the people; & they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, He said that these also should be set before them. And they ate & were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.
MANAGING GOD’S GIFT OF THE WORLD
Stewardship – is a word that evokes different reactions. Perhaps you hear that word & wonder, “What does it even mean?” Perhaps you hear the word “stewardship” & think, “Oh no! It’s that time of year again? How far behind are we in this year’s budget? How much will we need for next year’s budget?”
Perhaps you hear that word & instinctively grab your wallet or purse – you know, to keep it safe from prying offering plates! Or when you hear “stewardship,” perhaps the pastor & the stewardship committee members instantly start looking like “moneygrubbers” in your mind’s eye. Well, here’s news for you. “Stewardship” is not all about money.
From God’s perspective, money is only part of the picture, & a small one at that. “Stewardship” involves & permeates all of our Christian faith & life. It describes how we believe & live as God’s created, redeemed & sanctified children all the days of our lives.
The term “stewardship” is often used to translate the Greek word oikonomia. That literally means “the management of a household or family.” The Old English word from which we get “stewardship” means the same thing. It’s what the housekeeper or the butler would do in their service to the lord of the manor.
The lord of the manor owned the mansion & the entire estate. The housekeeper or the butler had the task of managing it. So it is for us Christians. Our loving triune God – Father, Son & Holy Spirit – is the “lord of the manor” for the heavens & the earth & everything in them.
We simply manage what God Himself owns. In this stewardship series, we’ll focus not chiefly on money but on the big picture of Managing God’s Gifts. We begin with His gift of the world, all of His physical creation in all of its down-to-earth, material beauty, usefulness & goodness. Psalm 24 (ESV) sings the glories of our heavenly King, beginning with these words in verse 1:
“The earth is the Lord’s & the fullness thereof, the world & those who dwell therein.” In order to appreciate fully God’s gift of His world & everything in it, we need to go back to the 1st & 2nd chapters of Genesis, before the fall into sin.
There we hear how God created everything – the heavens, the earth, light, dark, sea, sky, land, vegetation, fish, birds, all the animals & critters, even us human beings – all of it out of nothing. Only God can do that! And since He created it all, He owns it all, & He cares for it all.
Notice what our mighty, heavenly King did next. He turned management of His good creation over to His human creatures. He entrusted the entire estate that He created to their capable management & stewardship. He told Adam & Eve:
“Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, emphasis added) In Genesis 2, God explains what that means: “The Lord God took the man & put him in the Garden of Eden to work it & keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, emphasis added)
Subdue God’s good creation? Have dominion over heavens & earth, over land & sea, over fish, birds & multi-legged critters? Some people recoil at that. Perhaps you have some misgivings too. It sounds tyrannical & abusive, so irresponsible & repressive. It certainly can be that, but only after Adam & Eve plunged us into sin & brought death into the world.
However, in God’s good order & according to His gracious, loving plan, “subdue” & “have dominion over” meant nothing more than receive, guard, keep, use responsibly, manage well, take care of – that is, practice good stewardship. God wants us & all people, over the whole planet, to work & keep His world of physical, material things, both animate & inanimate. He wants us to manage it all, & manage it well.
It’s what we learn & confess in the explanation of the 1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed, where Martin Luther instructs us:
“I believe that God has made me & all creatures; that He has given me my body & soul, eyes, ears & all my members, my reason & all my senses, & still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing & shoes, food & drink, house & home, wife & children, land, animals, & all I have. He richly & daily provides me with all that I need to support this body & life... All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness & mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank & praise, serve & obey Him.”
That is good stewardship – good management – of God’s gifts: receiving them from Him, thanking Him for them, & using them as He intends. The problem is we now live in a post-fall world, one world infected by sin, corrupted by death, & rampant with poor management of God’s good creation. We fallen sinners routinely abuse the gift of God’s good earth.
We toss our candy wrappers or cigarette butts on the ground with an out-of-sight-out-of-mind neglect. When we repaint the living room, we may not properly dispose of the unused paint or thinner. We have huge companies looking for inexpensive ways to dispose of waste materials from their factories & end up polluting God’s earth with toxic sludge or smog.
Enter the environmental movement, coming to save the day. They tell us we must protect the environment & learn to recycle. We must drive our cars less, or at least drive more fuel-efficient & cleaner cars. We must “Save the Earth!” or “Save the Whales!” or “Save the Rain Forests!” The latest mantra is, “Stop climate change & be green.”
Certainly, these can be good things & sound practices. Good management of God’s gift of the world wants to take care of the many things, creatures & resources that God gives. Where we run into problems, however, is when the environmental movement turns planet Earth into a goddess to be worshiped & protected at all costs, as though we human beings were nothing more than a parasite infestation in an otherwise pristine paradise. Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker that says “Love your mother” right next to a picture of planet Earth – or the one that says “Walk gently on Mother Earth,” right next to a picture of planet Earth.
The idea comes from Greek mythology where Earth is called “Gaia,” the ancestral mother of all life. She is a goddess & we must do homage & protect her. Good management of God’s earth, however, does not mean seeing or worshipping the created order as a goddess.
Nor does it mean exploiting the land, the sea, or their many resources, as if physical things do not matter. When we mindlessly litter, when we waste food, when we poach animals, when we flush out or bury toxic waste, we’re playing God & forgetting that we are but managers of His good world. We are never the owners of Creation.
Also, when we spurn the material order in such callous ways, we are imitating the old Gnostic heresy that says, “Spiritual things are good; material things are bad.” A manager who wastes or neglects the Master’s possessions deserves only to be fired.
God’s Word gives us a completely different way of managing God’s good gift of the world & everything in it. In the Gospel reading, we hear our Lord Jesus Himself respect & honor the created order of His Father. We can even rejoice that He also uses the created order to deliver the gifts of His salvation to His people!
Jesus had been teaching for three straight days. The people had been gladly hearing & learning the Word of God from Him, but by that time, they were hungry. If Jesus had told them to go home for something to eat, they’d have fainted on the way.
So our Lord once again shows His deep compassion. He took the seven loaves & the few small fish – created things – gave thanks for them, broke them, & handed them to the disciples to give to the crowd. All 4000 people that day ate their fill & were satisfied. Our Lord Himself practices good stewardship – good management – of God’s material world. He uses the gifts of creation to feed & satisfy those 4000 people. The small catechism teaches us this:
“God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.” So we, God’s managers, learn to pray “that God would lead us to realize this & to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” (SC, explanation of the Fourth Petition)
Managing God’s gift of the world means receiving His material world, in its many-splendored wonder, with thanksgiving & using it for our benefit & the benefit of others.
Since we don’t always do this, since we too neglect God’s good world, since we may even be tempted to deify God’s creation, we look to Jesus not only for daily bread, but also for His mercy & forgiveness – His “bread of life.” This Jesus, who fed the crowd of 4000, also came to redeem & restore us along with all the rest of God’s creation.
This Jesus, “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity,” is also “true man, born of the Virgin Mary.” (SC, explanation of the 2nd Article) This Jesus Himself had & still has “body & soul, eyes, ears & all [His] members, [His] reason & all [His] senses.” (SC, explanation of the 1st Article)
This Jesus received all these gifts of God’s created world & managed them in order to save & to redeem you. His physical body was cruelly whipped. His physical head was crowned with thorns. His physical hands & feet were pierced & fixed to a cross. His voice cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30) to proclaim you forgiven with your sins erased.
On top of all that, this Jesus rose victorious from the grave, with His physical, material body. His resurrection on the 3rd day also becomes the 1st day of a new, restored creation. Jesus even uses things of His creation to deliver His salvation directly to you: water for your Baptism, to make you His child; sound waves for you to hear His Absolution; & bread & wine in His Supper to give you forgiveness, life & salvation. Your Lord Jesus redeems, not just your soul but your body, so that you may live now as faithful stewards, or managers, of His world. Let’s read, mark, learn & inwardly digest St. Paul’s words: “Everything created by God is good, & nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1 Timothy 4:4)
You & I have been called & redeemed by Jesus Himself to care for His creation – to manage the gift of His world. Instead of deifying the created order, we treat it with proper respect, because “the earth is the Lord’s & the fullness thereof.”
Instead of wasting, we conserve. Instead of despising physical things, we delight in all that God gives in His created order. Instead of littering or polluting, we find ways to properly & safely dispose of trash or toxic waste. Instead of abusing or poaching animals, we care for them, &, yes, even use them for food, as God has given.
Even in this broken world, we can delight in God’s creation, because He knows us intimately. He is with us day by day. His love for us never fades away. By His grace, we can manage God’s gift of the whole world because our heavenly Father has prepared in advance the good works that He calls us to do. Amen.
We give Thee but Thine own, whate’er the gift may be; all that we have is Thine alone, a trust O Lord, from Thee. And we believe Thy Word, though dim our faith may be: whate’er for Thine we do, O Lord, we do it unto Thee. Amen.
The quotations from Martin Luther are taken from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
 Psalm 24:1
 Genesis 9:3
Pastor Dean R. Poellet